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Homicide, Suicide, Accident

Reconstruction of the circumstances surrounding a fatal event requires detailed examination of the scene. The expert witness must establish the location of the weapon, the projectiles, expended cartridge cases, the distribution of blood traces, the type of entry hole (contact wound, near-contact wound, intermediate wound, long-distance wound), localization of the entry and exit hole, all alterations in the victim's clothing, etc. as well as the position of the victim and the probable perpetrator.

In Western Europe, gunshot wounds of the head are most commonly seen in cases of suicide. The entry hole in the majority of cases is located in the right temple, the left temple, or in the mouth (Möllhoff and Müller 1975). Most of the wounds are therefore contact or near-contact wounds. The weapon is invariably found near the victim, sometimes gripped tightly in the victim's hand (Krauland 1984).

Suicide cannot be ruled out even if the entry hole is in a location usually not associated with suicide, for example on the top of the skull, or in the occipital region. Suicide is also not ruled out in the event of multiple gunshot wounds of the head, since wounding with small caliber weapons of low energy does not always produce immediate incapacitation (for a survey see Missliwetz 1983; Unterharnscheidt 1993).

In cases involving intermediate or long-distance wounding, or if no weapon is found at the scene, homicide is likely. If the localization of the entry hole is incompatible with accident or suicide, or if there are multiple entry wounds, homicide is of course to be suspected. Suspicion is also in order if reconstruction of the scene fails to explain the victim's movements and localization of the gunshot wounds.

Accidental gunshot injury is a possible explanation in cases with atypical trajectory. Only in extremely few cases does it prove impossible to establish whether the death was due to suicide, homicide, or accidental wounding with certainty.

Fig. 8.16a-d. Shotgun wound. a Entry wound as a contact and demonstration of multiple fractures of the cranial bone; mul-wound; b distribution of multiple shot pellets within the cranium tiple pellets on c the brain surface and d the brain section

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